Vtech Apple – Demo

Hey guy’s I just created and uploaded a quick video to show off my progress on the Vtech Alphabet Apple. Unfortunately I was having some issues with my portable amplifier so I ran it through the internal speakers but this should still give a good idea of what the bends I’ve completed so far can do. The demo starts off a bit slow but picks up after 1:20 or so. I also get into a really interesting glitch near the end of the video using the voltage starve.

If you want to have a look back at any of the previous posts they can be found here :

VTech Apple Part 1 – Kill Switch and Line Out

Vtech Apple Part 2 – Exploration and Pitch Adjustment

Vtech Apple Part 3 – Voltage Starve

Vtech Apple Part 4 – Body Contacts

Vtech Apple Part 5 – 555 Trigger Oscillator

 

 

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VTech Apple Part 5 – 555 Trigger Oscillator

circuit bending, loop trigger, 555

I have to admit for some time I have been stalled with my Vtech Alphabet Apple circuit bending project. I love the toy aesthetically and have always felt like there should be more bends available then what I was able to find. However even after hours of experimenting and dissecting this toy I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed with the results. Over the weekend though I brought it back out determined to turn it into a more functional instrument, and to do that I needed to create a trigger oscillator.

If you want to get caught up before going forward don’t hesitate to visit my previous posts on this toy:

VTech Apple Part 1 – Kill Switch and Line Out

Vtech Apple Part 2 – Exploration and Pitch Adjustment

Vtech Apple Part 3 – Voltage Starve

Vtech Apple Part 4 – Body Contacts

Since I hadn’t had any luck finding a loop on the board I moved on to less straight forward methods. I decided what I needed was a way to send a signal at repeating intervals to one of the contacts on the button matrix to trick the Vtech Apple into thinking a button was being repeatedly pressed and trigger a repeating sound. By generating this signal independently I could manipulate its frequency and control to suit my needs.

Once I had a clear definition of what I needed to get the job done the solution seemed all to clear, what I needed was a 555 timer. By setting up an astable 555 timer as a trigger oscillator I could route the square wave signal into the button matrix to repeatedly trigger the button (or buttons) of my choosing. Further by using a potentiometer I would be able to adjust the frequency of the square wave and therefore control the time between button presses as needed.

555 astable
This is a simple mock up of the circuit I used. Note that for this to work the positive voltage must be supplied by the toy itself and the ground must be share with the toy as well. This is easily accomplished by running the power from either the positive power connection on the Apple’s circuit board or directly from the kill switch installed in Part 1 . Just ensure it is connected at or past the kill switch so that the kill switch will remove power from the oscillator as well. Similarly the ground can be connected to any ground point on the circuit.

Astable 555 circuit
After testing my plan using a breadboard I put together this small 555 timer circuit on a scrap piece of perf board I had laying around from a previous project. I did my best to keep everything as small and compact as possible as my space inside the toy is somewhat limited. I’ve seen some circuit benders using what is called the “Dead Bug Method” in these situations to further minimize the size of the circuit. When building a dead bug circuit the components and connections are soldered directly to the pins on the IC rather than onto a piece of perf board. This can be an excellent way to shrink the circuit for those really tight fits but also leaves you with a more fragile product so since I could get away with using a board in this toy I did in order to get more stability and durability from the circuit. I will revisit dead bug circuits in a future post but in the interim there are many demonstrations of the method on YouTube if you deem it necessary.

Wiring 555 Oscillator
Once I had my 555  trigger oscillator circuit built the next step was to install it in my Vtech. I started out by planning positions and drilling holes for the potentiometer, switch and LED. Once these were in place I began the process of wiring the leads I had left on the 555 trigger oscillator circuit to their respective locations on the toy. On the diagram below I have marked the approximate paths of each wire upon installation. In planning this mod I did my best to limit the number of wires crossing between the back and front sections of the toy as these wires tend to get put under a lot of stress when the toy is being opened and closed. To achieve this I pulled power from my kill switch and sent ground directly to the negative terminal on the battery box. Since the switch and pot are mounted on the back portion this means only the pulse out wires have to cross over to the front half of the apple.

Wiring Vtech Apple

You may also notice that there are two pulse out wires leading from the switch to the button matrix. I used a 3 position on-off-on switch for this bend which allowed me to send the pulse to two locations based on the switch position (as well as nowhere in the off position) By connecting the opposing sides of the switch to different positions on the key matrix I am able to choose between two different buttons when running the oscillator. If you were so inclined and had the space to work with you could take this even further using a rotary switch or patch bay to allow you to select where the pulse was being sent. If there is a specific key you are after which you are not finding by touching the pulse to the solder points on the matrix try using your probe to connect sets of two points on the matrix together. If you find that this is necessary to get the input you desire this can be done by bridging the two points with a transistor and feeding the pulse into the base (more on that in a future article).

Finished Vtech Apple Loop
Once everything was wired I secured the 555 circuit and LED with hot glue, taped down all the loose wires and closed up the toy. I have to say after playing with it a bit I am really enjoying this modification. I’ve been able to produce a host of strange noises and effects and without having to use a hand to continually press the buttons I feel like I’m finally able to take full advantage of the other bends on this device. I’ve been having particular fun using the power starve to produce glitches in conjunction with the continuous oscillating noise produced by raising the rate of the 555 to high frequencies.

That’s all for today but I hope you guys have fun. Happy soldering!

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VTech Apple Part 1 – Kill Switch and Line Out

Lately I’ve been playing around with circuit bending and wanted to share some of my progress with you as I have found it to be an interesting and rewarding way to create new and unique instruments. I will be posting more complex bends and projects in future but before we get too deep into circuit bending I wanted to quickly go over two simple modifications which I do to essentially every toy I bend. Today I’m going to add a simple kill switch and a switched output to my VTech Alphabet Apple toy. These modifications are a great way to start getting familiar with the circuitry of a new toy and can prove invaluable as you continue exploring and bending the circuit and developing it into a unique and bizarre noise machine.

Our Victim

VTECH Alphabet Apple untouched

Though these modifications should work on nearly any toy you decide to modify the victim I will be demonstrating them on is a VTECH Alphabet Apple which I purchased from a local thrift store for 4$. When choosing a toy to bend I like to visit the local thrift stores (Value Village, Salvation Army, Goodwill) for two reasons, first you can get great toys for outrageously cheap and second it’s the easiest way to find toys from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s which are by far the best for bending.   There have been several iterations of the Alphabet Apple produced by Vtech with a similar aesthetics but very different internal workings, this particular model seems to be the most popular and was released early in the year 2000.

The first step once you get the screws out and open up the toy is to take pictures, lots and lots of pictures, using a digital camera or phone. These photos will allow you to mark down any bends or notes you find down the road and can also be used as a reference if anything goes wrong. Often times the cheap solder joints attaching the wires in these toys can come disconnected and the photos can help you reattach them where they belong. Here i s a picture of the circuit from my Apple :

Apple Circuit

The Kill Switch

When we circuit bend a toy we are forcing it to operate well outside of the factory parameters and this can cause …problems. We are forcing the processor to run at unusual speeds and sending data in and out of the chip sets in ways that were never planned for. Often this will cause the system to crash or lock up which can often only be rectified by removing the batteries and allowing the circuit to reset itself. This can be time consuming and frustrating, especially if the battery compartment is difficult to reach or needs to be unscrewed to access.

To simplify this we will add a basic switch along the red positive power line to allow us the disconnect the batteries at the flick of a switch. Simply cut and solder the switch onto the power line, drill a hole in the casing and mount it as seen below :

Kill Switch

Adding An Output

Next up we will be adding an audio out jack, this will allow you to send the audio signals from your toy to a mixer, an amplifier, headphones or even effects and filters. One thing which consistently amazes me is the quality of sound you can often get from these toys once you bypass the cheap built in speaker and run them through a proper playback device, not to mention how much deeper or more interesting you can make the output by running it through a couple simple filters, or perhaps a guitar pedal or two, the possibilities really are endless.

Before we get started lets have a look at a quick schematic to get an idea of what we will be doing :

Line Out

As you can see above this is a fairly simple procedure, essentially we will be cutting the positive wire going from the main circuit board to the speaker and adding a SPDT (on-on) switch. This switch will allow us to either send the signal from the board to the speaker normally allowing the toy to be played via the built in speaker or to divert the signal to an output jack we have added which will effectively turn off the built in speaker and send the signal through to whatever we plug the toy into. From here the sleeve tab on the jack is connected back to the point where the speaker wire returns to the board thus completing the circuit.

The resistor placed across the jack is there as a safety measure, most speakers have a certain level of impedance which the circuit was designed to have while running (You may have heard speakers referred to as 8 ohm or 4 ohm speakers this refers to the impedance or “resistance” they place in the circuit) Since we’ve bypassed the speaker we have removed this impedance from the circuit and need to replace it with the resistor.

Before we wire this it is important to inspect the toy and decide where the switch and jack will be placed, I generally like to drill my holes and insert the components before doing the majority of my soldering but this is really a matter of personal taste and depends how tight a space you are working with. Be especially careful when placing the 1/4 inch jack, make sure to leave enough room behind it not just for the connectors on the plug but for the male 1/4 inch jack which will be inserted into it.

Output wiring

Once you’ve planned the location for the components you can wire them to the circuit. Take care to leave enough wire to reach from the board to the components without leaving an unnecessary amount of slack. The green and orange wires which are taped to the back of the keypad lead from the board (at the speaker output) down to the center pin of the switch and then from one of the outer pins of the switch back up to the positive side of the speaker. From the opposite outer pin of the switch you can see the small purple wire leading to the jack tab, the 10 ohm resistor across the jack and the second green wire leading from the ground (or sleeve) on the jack back to the audio return on the circuit board. Give it a test and you should be in business.

Now that we have these two simple modifications in place we are able to quickly cut power and reset the toy if we run into a crash or lock up, and we can pipe the audio from the toy directly into any other device which will accept an audio input. With only a handful of solder connections and four or five components we have transformed this simple toy into something much more versatile and have prepared it for the treachery we will soon be visiting upon it. Now the real fun can begin, Next time we will be looking at adding a pitch bend knob to the device and will begin searching for some glitches we can exploit to turn this “Learning Device” into an outlandish electronic instrument.

Click Here To Continue With Part 2

 

 

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